Jon Wertheim answers reader questions about Rafael Nadal, Taylor Townsend vs. 69 year old woman match and more in his weekly Mailbag.
Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @jon_wertheim.
While fretting the future of the Miami Open....
What do you think of Nadal’s title in Monte Carlo? Do we need to start thinking about him as a French Open favorite again?
• I was surprised by the volume of questions—both email and on social media—we got about Nadal’s play last week. On both sides and extremes. RAFA’S BAAAAAAACK!!! No, wait, it was “a fraudulent title he won in Monte Carlo because he didn't have to play Federer or Djokovic.”
Let’s be clear: Nadal will be a contender for the rest of his career. Even when clay isn’t underfoot. This is an absolute titan of the sport. We lament that his consistency has slipped. But even that implies that he’s still capable of greatness. Even with a first round loss in Australia, he’s playing Top Five tennis in 2016. He appears to be healthy. And the next Grand Slam is one he’s claimed NINE times. (Which constitutes eight more times than anyone else who will be in the field.)
The flip side, of course: with increasing frequency, “bad losses” have infected his game. He hasn't beaten Djokovic in two years—including last year’s French Open when Djokovic beat him in straight sets. I suppose this could change in the next month, but realistically, Djokovic comes to Paris as the favorite; Nadal as the second pick. With any luck they’ll be on different sides of the draw.
Here’s one—tangentially related—observation I throw out there: when Federer was dominating, I sense that the tennis public was okay with it because the tennis could be appreciated as art. As someone (over)wrote, “The suspense isn’t in the outcome of the matches, but in how the genius will express itself.” (O.K., the over-writer was me.) Djokovic’s game, by contrast, devastatingly effective as it is, is less stylish and easier to appreciate when there’s a foil on the other side of the net. So we are, collectively, a bit impatient with his dominance and eager to see a challenger such as Nadal emerge. Discuss!
In your biz and your position (famous/respected sports writer with friends that include legends of the game etc.), you must hear a lot of “privileged” information regarding tennis tour gossip, relationships and all the drama that comes with a sport of independent contractors. My question is: have you ever caught yourself pre-judging a player and their potential in hindsight due to having the inside track? And if so, an example?
• I was just talking about your first point with someone last night. In a sport of individuals and individual contracts, there’s often more information floating around than a sport with teams and an infrastructure. (Just look at the developing Conor McGregor
circus situation. Suffice to say that doesn’t happen if he plays for the Patriots or Knicks or Real Madrid).
How to handle this information? Here’s a dirty secret about journalism: you try and be fair and you try to be accurate but otherwise there are scant few rules per se. Rather, it’s a series of judgment calls. There are all sorts of different scenarios and sets of circumstances and fact patterns. There are also these balances of interest to consider: The balance between relevance and the public’s right to know. Between stars—that is, public figures, who receive payment based on their image and have a platform to defend themselves—and lesser lights. Between whether a piece of information is relevant to the athlete’s job or idle gossip. (If Player A is fighting with a spouse, it might not be worth airing. If Player A inexplicably lost a match and you knew they’d been up the night fighting with a spouse, you might think differently.)
How is it possible that you and the other politically-correct puppets in the media can discuss equal prize money without understand basic economics? If the market for women’s tennis is less than the market for men’s tennis, why is it such an “injustice” when someone like Djokovic has the audacity to say that maybe the more valuable tour deserves more valuable purses?
—Jack, New York
• If you want to go totally market-driven and rely on “basic economics,” why stop with gender? Roger Federer can make $2 million for a one-night appearance. That’s not me talking; that’s the market talking. At January’s Australian Open, Federer played six matches. We’re talking about a huge stadium with sponsorship and all sorts of international television. So $2 million is conservative. But we’ll stick with that figure. So six matches at $2M…Federer should have come in for $12 million. How much did he earn? $580,000. We’ll repeat our stance: When the men and women play together—for reasons both economic and pragmatic—you can’t have two wage scales.
Hi Jon. I look forward to your tennis writing and the Mailbag and never thought I’d be writing, but I have an important question (at least to me!). My husband has told me that, for our 30th anniversary, he wants to give me my dream of going to Wimbledon. Assuming that we’re willing to pay the freight, and that tickets are available, what would you recommend for an ideal experience? The final weekend for the various finals or earlier in the tournament so that we can see more? Thanks so much for your help.
• Hey, congrats. That’s an impressive anniversary gift. As we wrote a few weeks ago, the Wimbledon tickets are the hard part. Once you’re inside the iron gates, you can’t go wrong. For lodging, you can either rent a flat in Wimbledon Village and walk to the court; or stay at a hotel/VRBO in London and take The Tube (or Uber) to the venue. You can't go wrong either way.
When to attend….Me? I’d rather go earlier in the tournament and walk around and see more matches on more courts. There are so many gems—Court 18; the Hill; the practice courts, the museum—I fear you’d miss some if you went only for the finals when all the action in concentrated on Centre Court.
One caveat, such as it is: in late June and early July in the UK, daylight reigns. Not quite Alaska, but close. Just know that it won’t get dark until close to 10:00 pm. and prepare accordingly. Time and again you hear people say, “Let's get dinner at 8:00 after the matches.” The matches, inevitably go later and fans left with a choice of leaving the tennis prematurely or cancelling their reservations. (I know, I know: We should all have such problems.)
Jon, Big fan here. I have a question for the tennis Mailbag. Have you seen the story making the rounds about a 69-year-old woman playing Taylor Townsend in that challenger tournament? I wanted your thoughts on this. I know it's not politically correct of me to say but I have a few thoughts on my own: How can that be a professional tournament? Is that simply life on the challenger circuit? What in the world is Townsend doing in a tournament like that? She is better than that!
—Dan from Downingtown
• Alexandra Stevenson addressed this on the SI Tennis Podcast last week. Pick it up at the 9:30 mark or so. This was a hot topic in tennis social media land. Often these smaller events have, in effect, a standby list for qualifying; and sometimes local players fill those slots. Friend-of-Mailbag Ryan Rodenberg wrote about this for SI.com last year.
When I worked at the New Haven event in the ‘90s, I remember that one of the “wait list” qualifiers was a local man who showed up with one racket, a thermos and his own can of balls. He played some young top pro (Mark Knowles or Steve Bryan I want to say), lost 6-0, 6-0 in roughly the time it takes to read this sentence, and went home with a story.
Your second question is a good one. In the 2013 Wimbledon girls’ final, Belinda Bencic beat Townsend in three sets in a thoroughly entertaining match. (The previous year, Eugenie Bouchard and Townsend won the doubles.) Today, Bencic is ranked No. 10; Townsend is ranked No. 385. On the plus side, Townsend just turned 20 on Saturday. Still plenty of time. She’s still young (and left-handed) and you hope a surge is coming. On the less plus side, she’s had an awfully rough go of it as a pro. And, sadly, at some point, a tranche of new players start collecting the wild cards.
In this week's column you answer a question regarding the subtle slide in doubles ratings for the Bryan Brothers, noting their own success, age, etc. as potential factors. Do you think the change in doubles formats to no ad scoring and 10-point match tiebreak in lieu of a full third set might have contributed to this as well? Sometimes it’s easy to overcome a missed point or net cord winner in an entire set, but when the points are weighted much more heavily due to the rule changes I think it makes a difference. I would take the Bryans to win a third set at least nine times out of 10, but to win a 10-point tiebreak maybe six or seven times out of 10. When you factor that into winning at least four matches per tournament, the odds are less in their favor. Just wondering your thoughts.
—Mike, Atlanta, Ga.
• Sure, simply as a matter of probability, the shorter the match, the bigger the chance of an upset. In a supertiebreak, one mis-hit or lapse and it’s over. Over a longer match, the better team will prevail. (One reason the top players are happy with a best-of-five format.) This flip side: the changes in doubles are shortened matches, which have reduced mileage on players and have extended careers. So you could argue the Bryans have gained by the changes, too.
Hi Jon. Just one question..."Marcelo Rios has a sister who lives in a Mennonite community.” Is that part of the true or the fictitious stories?
—Daniel from Chile
• (False.) Drink!
• The most recent SI Tennis Beyond the Baseline Podcast was with Alexandra Stevenson, still chasing the dream at age 35.
• Next guest: the inimitable Judy Murray.
• Continuing our unexpectedly protracted discussion on Steve Miller and the Hall of Fame, James notes: I don't think Steve Miller deserved induction into the Hall of Fame because he didn't produce enough quality work or quite frankly a large quantity of work in general. But man The Black Keys embarrassed themselves here.
• Our unofficial Swiss correspondent Sally writes: Speaking of Patty Schnyder, as you often do, she is doing the commentary for Swiss Television of the Fed Cup (against the Czech Republic). So nice to see her add another string to her bow.
• Joe Samuel Starnes on serve speeds and Big John Isner.
• Episode 4,281 of “Everyone Comes from Somewhere,” here’s Ravi Ubha on Brazilian tennis player Teliana Pereira who came from absolutely dire poverty.
• Good news for us Frank Deford fan boys: Our man has a new book coming out next month.
• Press releasing: Appearances by Caroline Wozniacki on August 1 and Andy Roddick on August 9 and a full slate of matches for top roster draftee Christina McHale are among the highlights of the inaugural 2016 New York Empire presented by Citi schedule this summer at historic Forest Hills Stadium at The West Side Tennis Club.
• More press releasing: Bjorn Fratangelo is in first place in the men’s USTA Pro Circuit Roland Garros Wild Card Challenge standings at the end of Week 1, putting him in the early lead to earn a main-draw wild card into the 2016 French Open. The men’s Wild Card Challenge continues this week with the $50,000 St. Joseph’s/Candler Savannah Challenger in Savannah, Ga., while the women’s wild card challenge kicks off this week with the main draw of the $50,000 Hardee’s Pro Classic in Dothan, Ala.
• My old friend Terry Shargel of New York has this week’s LLS:
HAVE A GOOD WEEK, EVERYONE!